Storms head this way; residents get prepared
The first blow in a one-two punch of tropical storms headed for the Hawaiian Islands is expected to hit Maui County as early as Thursday evening when Hurricane Iselle, or a remnant of her, arrives on shore, National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Lau said Tuesday afternoon.
As the storm continues on a northwest track and passes over cooler waters and the Big Island, wind shear was expected to begin tearing apart the storm system, Lau said during a news conference in Honolulu.
Nevertheless, the tropical storm is still predicted to bring high surf and a soaking of 5 to 8 inches of rain. Winds ranging from 45 to 55 mph were forecast to buffet Maui, Molokai and Lanai residents, who are likely to experience power outages and downed utility lines, Lau said.
Island residents were busy Tuesday filling gas tanks and buying bottled water and other emergency supplies while securing loose items outside, like lawn furniture. Hotels and resorts were implementing storm preparation plans while visitors were expected to ride the storm out in their rooms or hotel lobbies.
Hotels and resorts were trying to keep their guests well informed and were “making sure everybody is as prepared as possible,” said Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau.
There was no readily available information on guest reservation cancellations, she said.
As of Tuesday, airlines flying in and out of Kahului Airport had made no announcements of flight cancellations or delays, said Marvin Moniz, Maui District Airports manager for the state Department of Transportation.
Overseas carrier officials were studying weather forecasts and would determine, probably Thursday afternoon, whether to delay or cancel flights, he said. Interisland flights were expected to continue flying, although they’d “move around” to avoid the storm’s strong winds, Moniz said.
The storm could affect flights on Thursday and Friday, he added.
The impending severe weather brought a flood of storm-preparation announcements. (See next story for closure notices.) The preparation notices included:
* A statewide flash-flood watch from 4 a.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday. (Heavy rains can lead to dangerous flash flooding, especially in low-lying and stream areas. Among other precautions, people should avoid camping or hiking near streams and be wary of driving in heavy rain when there’s ponding, reduced visibility or poor conditions for braking.)
* Shelters will be open beginning at 1 p.m. Thursday at some schools, Maui County announced. Those schools are Baldwin High in Wailuku, Lokelani Intermediate in Kihei, King Kekaulike High in Pukalani, Hana High and Elementary and Molokai High and Kilohana Elementary on Molokai. The Lahaina Civic Center also will open as a shelter. The Maui Bus paratransit service will be available for same-day reservations for rides from homes to shelters. Call 877-7651.
* County officials recommended residents stock up with seven days of supplies, including food, water and medicine. They advised people to board up or cover windows, prepare a disaster kit to take to a designated shelter, fuel vehicles and securely moor boats or move them to safe areas before the storm hits. Emergency preparedness information may be found at www.mauicounty. gov/civildefense. For details on what a disaster kit contains, go to www.redcross.org/hawaii and see Programs and Services/Disaster Preparedness.
* Hawaii State Chapter of the American Red Cross officials said 1,500 trained volunteers were on standby, prepared to staff storm shelters in nine-hour shifts. “People need to bring their own food, water, blankets, toiletries, medications and other necessities to a hurricane evacuation shelter,” said Coralie Matayoshi, chief executive officer of the Hawaii State Chapter. “There simply are not enough resources if a substantial number of people need to evacuate to shelters to ride out the storm.”
* State insurance officials advised residents to conduct an inventory of their belongings and review their homeowner’s insurance because standard policies don’t cover hurricane and flood damage. Residents also should be familiar with their deductible amounts and claims procedures, officials said.
* Officials of the Piilani Promenade project in Kihei reported the removal of the fabric portion of the project’s construction dust fence, as a precaution, against strong winds.
Two big storms so close together is rare in the central Pacific, and Hurricane Iselle could make landfall by Thursday and Tropical Storm Julio could hit three days later, officials said.
In preparation, some people in Hawaii are making sure to vote early in the primary elections, which are Saturday.
The chairwomen of the Hawaii Republican and Democratic parties urged voters to cast their ballots before the primary election to ensure their safety.
Walk-in voting for the primary is underway at Kalana O Maui Building in Wailuku from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Thursday. On Molokai, walk-in voting is available from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. through Thursday at the state Department of Accounting and General Services building No. 1 in Kaunakakai.
“At times like this, when lives and property may be in danger, we aren’t Republicans or Democrats, we’re ohana,” said Patricia “Pat” Saiki, chairwoman of the Hawaii Republican Party. “By voting early, before Saturday’s primary election, voters can stay safe and still cast their ballot for the candidates of their choice.”
Stephanie Ohigashi, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, also urged people to vote early.
“Voting is a sacred right cherished by all Americans. We don’t want any voter to be denied that right for any reason,” she said. “And we don’t want anyone to have to choose between voting and staying safe.”
Although Hurricane Iselle was likely to have been downgraded to a tropical storm when it strikes the Big Island on Thursday and then sweep over the other islands, state Civil Defense spokesman Brian Miyamoto said “tropical storms are nothing to laugh at.”
The outlook for Julio is more uncertain – it could hit the islands by Sunday, Miyamoto said.
As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, Hurricane Iselle was about 860 miles east of Hilo and continuing to head toward the state with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, according to the National Weather Service in Honolulu. It was moving west-northwest at 13 mph, with some increase in speed expected as Iselle approaches the state.
Tropical Storm Julio, which also was heading toward Hawaii, was 1,290 miles west-southwest of the southern tip of Baja, Calif., at 8 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm, with maximum sustained winds of about 65 mph, was moving west-northwest at about 15 mph.
The clustered storms are rare but not unexpected in years with a developing El Nino, a change in ocean temperature that affects weather around the world.
“It’s something that doesn’t happen very often,” Lau said. “Conditions are favorable because we’re entering El Nino temperatures.”
A hurricane last hit Hawaii in 1992, and before that, in 1982.
“The central Pacific doesn’t see nearly the activity that the Atlantic sees,” said James Franklin, chief of hurricane specialists for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
* Staff Writers Melissa Tanji and Lila Fujimoto and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews. com.